“Before the community radio station, when my husband lost a camel, the family would have to stop what we were doing and go look for it.  Even my eldest son had to drop out from school to search for it.  When my husband’s camel walked off last month, he just went to our radio station paid some small money, made an announcement and his camel got returned.”   –  Mother of five, Amina, near Tahoua, Niger.

This is one of the hundreds of wonderful and meaningful stories that I’ve been told as to why radio remains the most practical and important communication medium right across Africa. In recognition of World Radio Day, here are my top six reasons why community radio remains both a vital personal and mass communication medium:

  1. It informs people on what’s going on in their own village or location, not just in the capital city or another country.  A farmer in northern Mozambique told me that she doesn’t care what’s going on in Maputo, she’s never been there.
  2. People want programmes – whether it’s news, chat shows, music, sports or announcements – in their own language.  Secondary school learners in Schoemansdal, which is near the Swaziland border in South Africa, spoke to me about listening each week to death announcements on the radio.  This is an area with more than 25% HIV/AIDS prevalence.
  3. It helps build a sense of community, giving a voice to the voiceless.  Listeners are empowered to express their point of view on what matters to them.  In the Dadaab refugee camps, women’s listening groups would call the local station stimulating debate on controversial topics in Somali culture like female genital mutilation, early marriage and women’s rights.
  4. Everyone can get involved in the station’s content, making audience participants in their own communication network.  Local people become board members, managers, technicians or even journalists.  In Chikuni, Zambia, local agroforestry expert, Boniface Hangala, has created and narrates radio programmes for farmers telling them about natural pesticides, crop rotation, tree planning to stave off erosion and warning of climate disruptions that could impact rural livelihoods.
  5. It promotes economic growth via local entrepreneurs and traders who can advertise their businesses.  (Political parties are not permitted to advertise on community stations.)  In Sengerema, Tanzania, Ezekiel, a furniture maker saw designs on the IKEA website at the community radio station’s Internet kiosk. He told me how adopted these ‘modern designs’, advertised on the community station, more than doubled his business and hired two additional wood-workers.
  6. It preserves local culture and traditions.  In rural Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, a community station broadcasts a programme “Voices of the Ancestors” in which grandmothers and grandfathers tell stories of their Zulu ancestors and pass along traditional wisdom.  In an area with a disproportionately high number of orphaned children, a programme like this helps them understand and value their cultural identity.

Despite our modern world of the Internet, smart phones and tablets – radio remains an important communication medium and community radio is a lifeline.

Happy World Radio Day!

Kristine Pearson for World Radio Day, 2013